It’s been over 40 years since psychotherapists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes stumbled upon a pattern among high-performing women they later called the “Impostor Phenomenon.”
What they noticed was this: women who were considered high performers - including those who were excelling at work - didn’t view themselves as intelligent or successful. Rather, these women operated under the belief that they’d only gotten as far as they had because other people overestimated their abilities.
The result of this belief? The inability to own their success and a life lived in fear and worry of being “found out.”
Today, 8 out of 10 of us experience impostor syndrome at some point in our lives. It’s the result of our need to seek confirmation or evidence that validates what other people believe to be true about us, so we can build that belief ourselves.
There are many theories why but all point to having an inaccurate perspective. We all see the world from our eyes out. It's like having a backstage view of a show where there is inevitable chaos and imperfection that isn’t experienced by the audience who watches a great show. They likely don’t notice if a line is missed or a misstepped dance move. The same applies to the rest of our lives, including at work.
Your inner critic loves to collect all the things that you could have done better. It wants to remind you to be more careful next time or scare you so you’re afraid to try again. That’s not always a bad thing if you use the information to grow with compassion. Be sure to remember that other people likely didn’t even notice your mistakes so they still see you as a great ‘performer.’
If you suffer from Impostor Syndrome, it's because you know inside that you have received positive feedback, work promotions and titles as well as have accomplished other visibly impressive achievements. Yet, you let your inner critic convince you that those clear, well-earned facts may be actually false. Without additional validation, your inner critic wins the inner debate and continues to chip away at your confidence.
Here are three, practical tips to manage Impostor Syndrome:
1. Validate your genius. Ask 5 coworkers how they perceive you and your abilities and why. Ask for constructive, honest feedback. Then, don’t agree, disagree or argue with what you get. Acknowledge it and reflect on it as the data that will help you recalibrate your self-perception.
2. Fill in the following statement: “I’m not good enough because …” Then, without blaming yourself or going down the rabbit hole of why you feel the way you feel, decide that you will be good enough - and how you’re going to make that happen. The simple act of deciding to level up in your self-perception will boost your confidence and quiet the voice in your head telling you that you’re a fake or a fraud.
3. Document past and recent successes. This includes anything you think is significant. Be sure to include the concrete actions you took that led to that success and wherever possible, quantify the impact they had. Just the facts, ma’am - even on your most ‘impostory’ days, your inner critic can’t argue with those.